For the first time ever at the Arnold Classic there will be a strongman competition for disabled athletes. Disabled strongman competitions have been taking place for years, but this will be the first time the Strongman Corporation is formally sanctioning one.
One of the athletes chosen to represent the sport is Chris Ruden, who’s a disabled powerlifter. Ruden has been seriously lifting for over 5-years and has worked around a disability his whole life. He was born with two fingers on his left hand and with his left arm being shorter than the right.
Ruden has done incredible work to support and help bring exposure to disabled strength athletes. He’ll be showcasing some of his lifts Saturday March 4th, then working to represent the formal competition Sunday March 5th.
To gain a little more information into this sport, what to expect at the Arnold Classic, and Ruden himself, we sat him down for an interview.
Jake Boly: To give the readers some background, who is Chris Ruden?
Chris Ruden: What I tell people is, I’m the only seven fingered diabetic powerlifter and motivational speaker. I’m currently 26 years and I’ve lived my whole life learning and needing to adapt to my surroundings, I’ve never known anything different, it’s who I am.
At 19 I was diagnosed with type-l diabetes, and honestly I started lifting because of diabetes. I was actually going to be a lawyer, but I wasn’t really passionate about it. Diabetes made me look at my own health and find something to work towards.
Boly: That’s insane – how did you get into lifting?
Ruden: Originally I wanted to do bodybuilding, I’m stubborn and wanted to do something people said I couldn’t do. With a disability, people would say, “Well you’re not symmetrical, and that’s what you need to be.“
I started with that and realized I was getting strong and tried my first powerlifting meet 2-3 years ago. I ended up winning my weight class at 181 lbs and got best lifter. I’ve been addicted ever since then. It wasn’t until I was 23 when I started to actually compete in powerlifting.
Boly: Very cool. So how did you get the position of becoming a representative for disabled athletes at the Arnold Classic?
Ruden: About a year ago I decided to start working for myself doing online fitness and nutrition consultation (I have a B.S. in Exercise Science). Then I started speaking at diabetes events and my awareness started growing and growing. Eventually a friend of mine ran into the owner of Strongman Corporation and he mentioned her to me, and then we started communicating.
We worked out this arrangement where she wanted to feature me as a way to bring awareness to the event Sunday. I’ll be lifting Saturday to help bring awareness, then the actual event for the World’s Strongest Disabled Man will take place on Sunday.
Boly: So you’re showcasing then doing representative work, what does that all entail?
Ruden: It’s to bring awareness to the situation. The stereotypes and stigma that’s attached to those are who disabled are typically thought of as – unable or crippled – it’s a bad stigma that’s attached to these types of athletes.
When people look at me they often go, “Oh that’s crazy, I could never do that.” My response is always, “What does that mean? I can do it because I’ve spent years doing it and you could too if you spent the time doing so.”
Boly: I completely agree with you.
Ruden: Another issue that’s tough with the disabled world is standardizing competition. There’s lower and upper-body amputees, neurological disorders, and it’s really hard to standardize.
I work with and represent a non-profit called I Am Adaptive where we work with adaptive athletes and we’ve trying to find ways to standardize it, it’s very difficult. There’s amazing athletes like Derick Carver, Derek Weida, and KC Mitchell who are killing the game for lower-body amputees, but I don’t see many many upper-body amputees. I’m hoping I can become the voice in that field.
Boly: That’s an awesome vision, it’s really cool you’re working so hard to push the sport.
Ruden: Everyone has a struggle, you just find a way to adapt and keep going.
I’ve done a lot in my career to help other people, especially those with disabilities. One of my most memorable stories helping others was when I helped an 11-year old kid who had cerebral palsy who couldn’t even really walk.
I worked with him for a little over a year and he ended up running on the beach for the first time. That was an incredible feeling and helped me realize there’s more to lifting than hitting PRs and looking good. There’s an ability to help other overcome their own struggles.
Boly: That’s amazing.
Ruden: It’s not one of the cliches where it’s like, “fitness saved my life,” but I think it’s a good outlet for people who don’t have an outlet. For example, lifting heavy is an ongoing personal competition, for me it’s my therapy and it’s how I help other people.
Boly: Besides bringing awareness to disabled athletes and the sport, do you have any personal goals for this weekend’s Arnold? Is there a weight you’re aiming for?
Ruden: After yesterday’s session, it was a legit RPE 8 and I was surprised. I’m really shooting for a 675 lb deadlift, but I’ll be happy with 650/655 lbs, but that’s a huge goal for me. By the end of this year my goal is to hit 700 lbs.
Boly: Where can we see you after the Arnold Classic?
Ruden: My next meet is in May, I’m working towards a 1,640 lb total at 181. That’s a huge goal of mine.
If you’re interested in following Ruden, check out his Instagram for some seriously motivational posts. In addition, make sure to check out the strongman competition for disabled athletes being held this Sunday, March 5th at the Arnold Classic.
Feature image from @chrisruden Instagram page.